I headed south on October 18th, smooth flights with 10 minutes between getting off one plane and boarding the next in Houston, then got some of the rust off my Spanish in conversation with my driver Enrique in heavy Guatemala City traffic en route to Antigua.
I had a nice breakfast at Fernando's and went for a morning walk.
While looking through the stacks of used huipiles in the Nim Po't store a group of young men asked if they could practice speaking English with me - passed half an hour pleasantly and signed their paperwork.
I moved from one hotel - my favorite in Antigua, Casa Cristina - to another nice one around the corner, Posada La Merced, better suited for the amazing extended family group of friends from San Pedro La Laguna that showed up mid day.
They arrived with buckets and bags of tasty food.
We walked Antigua end to end, heading back through the Santa Catalina Arch at dusk.
Dancing to live music in the parque central.
Interpreting an ancient tablet in the ruins of the old cathedral.
The group! You've heard me speak of Mynor and his wife Josefa and their boys; this group includes Josefa's brother's family, Mynor and Josefa's parents, Mynor's brother, and the brother's son plus our driver Pablo and me.
As anyone who has visited Antigua has learned, you choose the sidewalk over the street to avoid twisting an ankle on the cobblestones, then watch the messed up sidewalk and whack your head on a cement window casing.
Saturday morning in Antigua - Agua and (smoking) Fuego volcanoes from the rooftop, breakfast at Fernando's Kaffee, and loading the van for the trip to the beach.
We made the drive to Monterrico, passing horrific damage from June's deadly eruption with Volcán Fuego looking innocent in the background.
My room at Hotel El Delfín, ordering lunch, and digging in.
The pool and the beach
Releasing tiny Olive Ridley Sea Turtles hatched in the local sanctuary.
Tortugario Monterrico (the sanctuary)
Protected beds of incubating sea turtle eggs
Crazy but beautiful ride through the mangroves on the ferry system that connects Monterrico and La Avellana.
Auto Safari Chapín
I am so grateful to have been included in this really fantastic extended family trip and followed up with a wonderful first week here in San Pedro. Highlights:
Enjoying the perfect weather and our home little here, Ti Wachooch, the 3rd level of this house. Also sharing the terrace where the views are gorgeous morning, noon, and night.
Spanish lessons 4 hours/day at the gorgeous La Cooperativa Spanish School with this wonderful teacher, Lorenzo, consisting mostly of practicing complex tenses in conversations about politics and religion and our personal histories and goals, plus a cooking class with his wife, Andrea (friends of mine since 2007), and visits to Beca students and the latest home construction project.
Exploring the town and market
This young man was just spent, trying to get his shaved ice cart up the steep hill; I offered to help and we made it to the top: great exercise!
A cute neighbor
2 photos of men with a spring in their step, headed out with their towels to bathe in the lake
A visit to my favorite chocolate place in San Pedro
My 2nd week featured Día de los Muertos - Day of the Dead - where they celebrate lost loved ones. They start early sprucing up the cemetery one tomb at a time.
I stopped by the cemetery again on my way to the market another morning and saw that some nice decorations had been added. The wooden crosses are - literally! - each hanging by a thread; I made sure to walk in the middle just in case.
This man is the father of a Beca Project graduate. He wanted me to follow him and take a photo of him by the grave of his wife who died in childbirth, too common here. :-(
Some of the tombs have photos that are just serious poses and some show the life work of the person laid to rest there. This man was apparently a carpenter who loved his work.
This man was a locally beloved and honored author and composer who passed away last summer. Check out the detail photo!
A few Sunday market photos
My prize of the morning - dark, citrusy honey, about $3 for this bottle.
This afternoon the local football (soccer) team beat the team from Nebaj 7-1. ¡Vamos San Pedro!
The stadium is incredible for a small town - no shortage of fans!
The giant banner comes out every time they score a goal and is drawn back in in less than 10 seconds.
Riot police were ready but - gratefully - not needed.
The man in green is the keeper for the team from Nebaj. The textiles there are some of my favorite and his uniform was adorned with images of it, top and shorts.
This man is their best fan - never misses a game, home or away. He was presented with a team jersey.
After the game, a fabulous traditional Sunday dinner at the home of Josefa's parents: chicken soup, tamales, tortillas, and rice.
I dressed up and attended 3 different graduations including 2 for members of the family here: 6-year-old Petronila, a niece of Mynor and Josefa whose family lives in the attached house and Manuel, Mynor and Josefa's older son who, at 14, will live in the city of Xela 3 hours away to attend university starting in January. The clouds and kites from the Catholic School terrace seemed a a good omen.
Catholic graduations include dinner. :-)
I also attended the Basico graduation of some of our Beca Project students. Basico is like our 7th, 8th, and 9th grades and a very big deal here since very few of their parents made it that far in school. They will choose Diversificado programs - like a combination of high school and trade school - to start in January. I was thrilled to see not only our Beca Project students but 7 or 8 younger siblings of Beca kids, a sign that their parents are working hard to be sure their kids receive an education.
I continued to spend 4 hours every weekday at La Cooperativa Spanish School with Lorenzo and convinced him to spend our class time one morning hiking around his land at the 2000 meter level on Volcán San Pedro. It was amazing to hear about how he acquired the land, his choices in caring for the coffee and choosing new varieties, his work with the local coffee cooperative, and his dream to build a home there someday (plus the bonus motocycle ride).
Día de los Muertos is about celebrating families and is such a rich occasion even for me since I'm invited to join in the family memorials and celebrations.
Catholic Mass in the cemetery
So much live music!
The altar for the author and composer grew as the week continued; family members wore t-shirts with his photo on the front.
The streets were busy with lots of food and stands selling flowers and candles.
Josefa purchased this huge fiambre salad, a tradition in Guatemala that grew from a desire to take to the cemetery the favorite foods of the departed; so many departed beloveds with different favorites resulted in this salad that can have 70 or 80 ingredients.
Always a highlight, running into Beca Project students, including this former student and her happy family (bonus cute old guy on the left) in the cemetery.
At a graduation
In the street near the market
Outside the cemetery - 2 lovebirds, both Beca students
A formerly shy student heading with pride and confidence to La Cooperativa to turn in her grades.
Sometimes I visit Beca Project graduates at home - in this case to meet a new baby daughter -
and sometimes they come to me - enjoying ice cream at Ti Wachooch, our little home.
I usually carve pumpkins on Mom's birthday, October 29th, but this year had to settle for guisquíl, a type of squash.
A thrilling sky show as seen from the rooftop terrace (until it dawned on me the lightening might think I was one of the highest spots in San Pedro)
So many shared highlights with this wonderful family - what I miss most from back home.
Breakfast my last morning at my favorite hotel near the Guatemala City airport, Villa Toscana, an hour before heading out.
There you go: another safe, happy, eventful visit to Guatemala. If you'd like to see more photos from this trip, click HERE.